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Jasper's Mountain - Part 16

Rachel Saylor

Jasper’s mind wanders to a fearful place of wondering how many are behind them, or when those men’s comrades will discover they are missing. Or, if the one that Jasper knocked unconscious will wake up soon and run back to the group, telling them of their discovery.

Was it dumb of me to leave that man alive? Will that come back to bite me in the ass later?  

All Jasper knows to do now is to keep trekking through the woods.

The snow begins to fall again, heavy snowflakes fill the air and rest atop of his and Claudia’s shoulders and heads.

Walking snowmen. Jasper grins at the thought.

Claudia continues to lead them as they push through the heavy snow. They find themselves in a large opening, all that can be seen is the bright white sky, the deep white ground ahead, and the flurry of snow all around and in between. They were walking in a snow globe.

The lighthearted reaction Jasper at first had to their new surrounding turns sour as the wind and snow pick up in intensity. The cold each of them feel reaches past their dermal tissue all the way to their bones. Each new step resembles the last and the torture of sameness eats at them. The uncertainty of if they will ever make it out of this situation weighs on each of them.

Just focus on breathing. In and out. In and out.

Jasper’s eyes stay on Claudia’s feet and legs in front of him. They don’t keep much distance as they push through the thick snow. For Jasper, the sight of Claudia’s feet continuing to move pulls him forward. For Claudia, the knowledge that she is leading Jasper through this blizzard pushes her forward. The invisible rope they hold between them is what gets them through the long, rough portion of this journey.

Hours seem to pass before they find themselves among trees again. The snowfall is just as heavy, but the change of scenery brings a new spring in each of their steps. They feel rejuvenated and a sense of relief that they don’t have the possibility of being hunted in an open area with nowhere to escape.

“The river should be southeast of here. I say we head back that way and continue with the river,” Jasper says.

Claudia nods, not adding any comments. She has not said or expressed much since the attack of the two men.

Jasper takes the lead and holds his metal compass out as he changes their direction. The sounds coming from his stomach sound like caged beasts ready to bust out of captivity. With no sign of any animals on land, Jasper feels that the only place they are going to find food is by the water.

They continue to walk with less enthusiasm than before, as their bodies are fatigued and need rest. Inside, they are at battle with themselves, their vessels begging for sustenance and a warm place to lie their heads.

Claudia trudges behind Jasper with her head held low. Gradually, her footsteps begin to drag in the snow and every movement becomes more labored than the last. Her determination and the light bounce in her step fade into self-doubt and lead filled, sluggish motion forward.

Jasper is busy with his compass in hand, making sure they are on the right path, so it takes him a while to realize the state of Claudia and the distance that has grown between them. When he turns around to let Claudia know he thinks they are close, he is taken by surprise at how small she looks in the distance.

Oh god.

Picking up the pace, Jasper retraces his steps to get back to Claudia.

“Claudia! Are you ok?” He calls out.

She stops moving forward all together, head hung so low, her chin appears to be touching her chest. Jasper runs the last stretch of space between them just in time to catch her before she collapses on the ground. His arm wraps around her back, supporting her neck, and he swoops her legs up in his other arm.

Claudia slowly blinks at Jasper and says, ”I grew tired.”

“It’s ok. I’ve got you. Just rest,” Jasper assures her.

Claudia closes her eyes and drifts to sleep, her breathing becoming slower and deeper.

Jasper turns and walks toward the direction he just came from. As he walks, slower than before due to the extra, yet not so significant weight, he looks at Claudia and all of her features on her face. She has smooth skin with soft, dark features.

She is so small and so young. Her pure, innocent youth is so present on her face, yet, she has changed now that she’s killed a man.

Jasper hugs her tighter to his chest as this thought settles into his mind, as if he could shelter her from the pain that will surely reside in her heart forever from the events that occurred today.

She is far too young to carry such a burden.